Venturing in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts this evening for opening night of the Broadway show WAR HORSE I can honestly say I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t familiar with the story except for Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award nominated film; which I didn’t see. The performance and appearance of this show did intrigue me. I’ve always enjoyed imaginative performances when it comes to theatrical events, THE LION KING especially. It takes a special vision to bring animated characters to life. I’m not specifically referring to cartoon animated images; more so, animals that truly exist in the world.
The Broadway Show much like Spielberg’s film adaptation is the story of Joey, a horse that is destined to be sold once he’s old enough and his unspoken bond with his young owner, Billy. As the news of World War 1 breaks through the town, Billy’s alcoholic father Ted (Todd Cerveris) sells Joey to the British cavalry. Right from the onset Ted is not a likeable gentleman, drunk or sober. He is constantly battling with his brother Arthur (Brian Keane) trying to show up everything he does. Rose (Megan Loomis), Billy’s mum is a good English woman who stands by her son, at times defying her husband. The show takes jumps from the British Countryside, to Germany and France thanks to a back drop screen and interesting imagery. It is this device depicting the battlefields and various other scenes that act in part as a narrative to the story.
As fate would have it Joey along with another horse, Topthorn, get shipped to France to fit on the battlefield. Lieutenant James Nicholls (Jason Loughlin) takes Joey as is own promising a young Billy he will take care of Joey. The British Calvary however was not ready or equipped to face the German’s and their modern weaponry including machine guns and tanks. Caught up in battles and enemy fire Joey the horse serves on both sides of the war. Billy still longing for his lifetime friend embarks on a dangerous mission to find his beloved horse and bring him home.
The horses on stage are amazing to watch. The puppetry literally disappears (with the exception of the puppeteer maneuvering the horses head) and what you see is the ‘actual’ horse; which is life-size and strong enough for the actors to ride. They breathe, gallop and charge on stage with magnificent wonder and the movement of the real thing. Their construction consists of flanks, hides and sinews built of steel, aircraft cables and leather. I have never seen anything like this live on stage or otherwise. It is a ‘wow’ moment for the Broadway stage. Michael Wyatt Cox is very convincing as Billy. He has the perfect balance as an actor to play strength and vulnerability at the same time. You believe his story and the love he has for Joey. I can’t say enough good things about the creative teams of the show. Their collective bold imagery is a stand-out performance on its own. Rae Smith (sets, costumes, drawings), Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company (puppet design, fabrication, and direction), 59 Productions (animation and production design) Adrian Sutton (music), John Tams (song maker) Greg Pliska (music direction) and Toby Sedgwick (Director of movement and horse sequences) bring out the ‘belief’ in all of us. It is amazing to realize that these are not real animals on the stage. I believe that is the best compliment I can give them.
The supporting cast of the show is equally good and impressive. The acting is very good and dramatically tense. The lighter moments come in the form of a goose puppet (worked by Jon Hoche) that acts as ornery as the real birds. WAR HORSE is a one of a kind Broadway experience that isn’t to be missed. It may make your heart beat a little faster, bring a tear or two to your eyes, but most importantly it will re-affirm your faith in love, friendship, courage and life.
WAR HORSE is the Winner of 2011 Tony Awards for:
Best Direction (Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris)
Best Scenic Design (Rae Smith)
Best Lighting Design (Paule Constable)
Best Sound Design (Christopher Shutt)